My son came home talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. this week. He learned about him in school, of course — the first one in our immediate tribe to hear about him as a fact and not a threat:
See this picture, Mommy? He’s waving hello. And he’s saying, “White people, you be nice to black people. And black people, you be nice to white people.”
That about covers it.
Being the public address nerd that I am, I said, “Let’s watch his speech!” And more motivated by the snuggling than the learning, he settled into my lap for a viewing.
“He said Stone Mountain, Georgia! I know where that is. That’s where the presidents heads are carved — George Washington, George Bush, and Abraham Lincoln.”
Oh, so close. So, so close and so very, very far. “You’re thinking of Mount Rushmore. But we’ve been to Stone Mountain, remember? There are presidents carved into stone there, but presidents of the Confederacy.”
“What’s the Confederacy?”
Sigh. . . . Where to begin. I did my best. The differences between the North’s industry and South’s agriculture. The labor-intensity of cotton. And slavery. I hate talking about slavery.
I ended up at Abraham Lincoln’s conclusion that the South’s leaving the Union was no option at all. And the Blue Coats and the Grey Coats.
We listened some more and jumped ahead a hundred years to the Civil Rights Movement. I told him that right here in Greenville, people couldn’t eat lunch in a restaurant simply because they were black. Or drink from the same water fountain or use the same bathroom.
I finally sighed through saying, “And you know what, honey? Mommy has just discovered one of the most hateful sources of this racism. Right here in Greenville. That’s Mommy’s job right now — working with God as He makes that crooked path straight.”
While I was stuck in my little Public Speaking 121 lecture, I listened to this greatest speech of the 20th-century again. For the first time in a long time. King’s talking about the same thing I read during Advent. It sounds different now than it did in my previous life.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: